A Death at Fredericksburg

by Jonah Begone

The soldier's regiment had finally moved on line with the rest of the brigade and was under fire. A constant whip of minie balls could be heard in combination with the explosions of shot and shell and the cries of men. The soldier's musket was loaded and at the ready - he was impatient to begin so that it could be over.

The soldier was forcibly shoved back into the line of file closers, where he sprawled at the feet of a surprised NCO. He had lost his musket, and could hear the volley given by his company in his absence. He looked about for a cause that would explain his presence on the ground but saw only the face of a man looking down at him in disgust. The soldier glanced down at his chest and noticed his breastplate all bloody; he then became frantic, unbuttoning his sack coat looking for the wound. There was no pain yet - so far so good! He felt a growing stiffness in his arm which made the unbuttoning process difficult, but he found what he was afraid he would find: a red, meaty hole in his chest.

Having satisfied himself that he had indeed been hit, he lay back flat on the ground to rest. It was then that the world began to collapse upon him; his view of things shrank to his immediate surroundings; the sound of his pulse in his ears drowned out the battlefield noise and the rapidly growing pain in his chest became all he could think about (if "think" was the correct term for it - in his desperation he had become a entity of reflex only, not capable of reason). A sudden desire for water manifested itself from within him.

It was not long before the soldier was in agony. He pressed the hand he could move against his wound in an effort to relieve the pain, but it did not help. He was vaguely aware of his screaming, and of the image of a familiar face intruding into his world of self-involvement and suffering. A comment, a diagnosis perhaps, was made but he did not understand it. His pain was absolute; for him there was no other reality.

Gradually the heartbeat pounding in his ears softened and his pain became less acute. He was aware that in his agony he had gripped the soil and had driven dirt under his fingernails. What was that? - he felt his right foot move, hit by a ball or shell fragment possibly, and saw bits of his shoe fly upwards. He focused on a grey flower the smoke trails of an exploding shot had created and was casually observing the effect of the wind distorting it. It was getting quieter, and the pain was almost gone. The pulse in his ears was now just a gentle nudge, and he had the oddest sensation of beginning to float. Ridiculous! His body felt relaxed, the sky darkened and the soldier stared calmly up into the Void.

The more thoughtful of the three who comprised the burial detail gazed into the face of the soldier and noted the expression of acceptance. How could this be?

One hundred and twenty-five years later to the day and at the very spot where the soldier had made a bloody puddle a group of reenactors assembled for a commemorative ceremony. The elected leader of the group was reading an account of the battle from a book and all present were suitably somber, some with tears in their eyes. ("The Victorians were into death like we're into sex," thought one of the unimpressed wives.) Just then the two-year-old son of one of the reenactors broke free of his mother's grasp and toddled in front of the company. Picking a stray plastic daffodil up from the ground, he raised it over his head and gave out a triumphant cheer. The Captain, indicating annoyance by a short glance upon the child and the least pause in his reading, was happy to note that the boy's mother had grabbed him and pulled him back out of sight. When the child continued to make noise and misbehave she took him to the car and fed him some juice. The commemorative broke up shortly thereafter and her husband returned for the drive back home. The child still clutched his daffodil.